Nielsen Will Finally Stop Using Paper TV Diaries in 2018

The antiquated method is still relied on in 140 local markets

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RIP, Nielsen paper TV diaries. Eventually.

Nielsen is finally phasing out its antiquated paper TV diary ratings system, which it still uses to record ratings in 140 local markets.

The company said today that by mid-2017, it will provide electronic measurement in its local TV ratings across all 210 of its designated market areas (DMAs).

The company will integrate return path data for set-top boxes and other electronic measurement—the same method it uses for its national ratings—which will allow it to do away with the paper TV diaries for good, "in early 2018."

Nielsen had continued to rely on paper diaries—in which Nielsen households record their television viewing by hand—even as it rolls out its total audience measurement tool, which it hopes will become the new industry standard for multiplatform ratings measurement.

A February New York Times story about Nielsen highlighted the continued existence of paper diaries, which led to another round of criticism about the company's inability to keep up with the drastic shift in television viewing habits.

In March, Steve Hasker, Nielsen's global president and COO, told Adweek that the company was in the process of phasing out the paper diaries by 2017, though he noted that "we only use paper diaries to measure well less than 5 percent of TV advertising. Nobody argues in principal that we should move beyond the diaries, and we've been looking to do so since I've been around in the last five years."

Hasker said at the time that larger networks were at least partially to blame in the delay to moving away from paper diaries. "The diary tends to favor the larger media properties because respondents, when they fill out a diary, are more likely to record their significant viewing time and less likely to record their less significant viewing time," he said. "As a result, the larger networks benefit from the diaries, and that creates a resistance from those clients to move beyond the diaries."

@jasonlynch Jason Lynch is TV Editor at Adweek, overseeing trends, technology, personalities and programming across broadcast, cable and streaming video.